I was recently asked to contribute an article on the "first-century" Mark fragment (P.Oxy. 83.5345) in the journal Early Christianity. Toward the end of that published piece, I wrote:
"There is one important question that remains unanswered regarding this papyrus. Despite the EES’s statement to the contrary, why have multiple people, including Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and the Green Collection’s benefactor, admitted that the Oxyrhynchus Mark papyrus was for sale at some point?"
It is now fairly evident that “first century” Mark was offered for sale. Please see the THIS blog post by my colleague, Brent Nongbri, who relays breaking e-mail correspondence from Mike Holmes.
Essentially, if the allegation in the e-mail is true, it indicates that an Oxford professor (Dirk Obbink) intentionally tried to sell papyri belonging to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) to the Green Collection.
This is not to be taken lightly. I am very curious to see what actions the EES will take here. It seems altogether criminal, in my opinion. This is a sad state of affairs indeed, but a conclusion (if proven true) that many have already drawn.
This news is part of a much larger web of conversation and debate around the manuscript acquisitions of the Green Collection, which I have posted about here, here, here, and here.
Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. and Canada. According to Wikipedia, this holiday is “a modern celebration honoring one's own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.” This is a time when many children send cards and flowers showing their appreciation to their mothers. While this holiday is modern in origins, we do find some examples of mothers becoming angry when their children do not write to them or show proper acknowledgment.
One case in particular comes to mind. In a first-century Greek papyrus letter known as P.Berenike 2.129, found in a Roman dump in Egypt, a mother named Hikane writes to her son Isidoros scolding him for not writing to her. Here is the opening of Hikane's letter:
“[Hikane] to Isidoros [her son, greetings. First of all] I thought it necessary, since the packet boat was putting out to sea, to write . . . me. I am in Berenike. I wrote you a letter [?but did not receive a] letter. Was it for this that I carried you for ten months and nursed you for three years, so that you would be incapable of remembering me by letter? And similarly you dimissed me though the Oasites . . . not I you. But I left your brothers in Arabia . . . so that . . Egypt I might see your face and . . . breath. I only ask and beg and adjure you by the one whom you . . . and by the memory of the one who begot you, to sail away if you are well.”
The papyrus is fragmentary, but Hikane’s frustration is clear. Through rhetorical coloring, she reminds Isidoros that she carried him in her womb for ten months and nursed him for three years. So, what is the moral of this story? Maybe it is that you should write to your mothers. Otherwise, you could receive a letter like Hikane's. Or worse: your mom takes her anger to Facebook!
Letter writers in the ancient world who chose papyrus as their written medium could use a new sheet of papyrus cut from a roll, or an already-inscribed papyrus. In many cases, when the recipient of a letter wished to respond to the sender, he/she would turn the letter over and write (or have a scribe write) his/her response on the back. In very rare cases, writers would wash the text off of a previously inscribed papyrus surface and then compose their letter. In these cases, it probably means that the respondent actually had no other material at his/her disposal. In other words, it was out of necessity that some papyri were re-used for inscription. We find a case of this detailed in one fourth century C.E. papyrus (P.Abinn. 21): "To my Lord and Father Abinnaeus, Alupios. Since I could not find at the moment a clean sheet of papyrus (χαρτίον καθαρὸν), I have written on this (i.e., the back of another letter)." Sometimes, blank papyrus sheets were actually sent directly to the correspondents. In one papyrus letter dated to the reign of Augustus (P.Wash.Univ. 2.106), Dionysia chastises her brother for not sending her a sheet of unwritten papyrus: "You did not send me word or remembrance or a sheet of unwritten papyrus (κόλλημα ἀγράφου). So write to me a letter and send it." And in another letter dated to the third century C.E. (P.Flor. 3.367), the letter writer complains that his would-be correspondent did not use the "letter-writing papyri" he sent him: "For I wrote to you many times and even sent letter-writing papyri (χάρτας ἐπιστολικο[ὺς) so that you would be supplied to write to me." Fresh, blank papyrus was, after all, not free, so it is understandable why this particular writer was frustrated. These sheets probably cost him good money. I suppose availability of new or "clean" papyrus also depended on one's location in relation to vendors, markets, and manufacturers of papyrus. Surely not everyone kept full papyrus rolls in their dwelling for future correspondence (though this is possible for the more well-to-do; on one request for papyrus rolls, see here, at bottom). It has often been stated that papyri could not be bought as individual sheets, but I hasten to agree with Bagnall and Cribiore's conviction that "people could find on the market papyrus stationary and could purchase individual pieces, whether whole sheets or not, and not only rolls" (Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BCE – AD 800 [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006], 36).
So, next time you go to grab that sticky note, be reminded that the ancients did not have such a luxury!
I am currently editing a small Greek papyrus that refers to a boat in the harbor of a monastery, which belongs to a certain Victor. Since transportation in Egypt was frequently done by boat along the Nile, it is no surprise that we find many references to boats in the papyri. Boats were most often owned by social elites, such as officials, aristocrats, and wealthy businessmen. What is surprising (at least to me anyway) is that several papyri actually mention boats that were owned by monasteries, bishops, and monks. From two related fourth century papyri (P.Col. 7.160 and 161), we learn that a bishop by the name of Hierapollon owned four boats. In P.Harr. 1.94 (fourth century), we learn that a Christian priest named Apollonius, son of a bishop named Dionysus, was the owner of a boat. P.Oxy. 34.2729, a fourth century Christian letter, mentions the boat of Thodoros the bishop. These boats were most likely the private property of well-to-do Christian clergy or their churches/monasteries. Jean Gascou has argued that monasteries made their boats available to the service of the state. Certainly, from the documentary record, we can see that some monastic communities were holders of much property and other kinds of assets. Perhaps some monks retained portions of their pre-monastic wealth. Some of these possessions were used to generate income and establish monastic estates. We learn of the leasing of part of a water wheel (P.Oxy. 16.1900), a boat anchor (SB 8.9683), and land (P.Ross.Georg. 3.48). Anyway, monastic life didn’t always mean empty, unadorned, and dark cells. Some monastic circles were participating in the lively economy of Byzantine Egypt just like everyone else. And some apparently had boats!